Close Down Campsfield detention Centre
by Kamal Prashar
Campsfield. A charming name for
a part of the Oxfordshire countryside, amid the rolling hills of
England and a stones throw from the ancient University. Campsfield.
The name of the Immigration detention centre that has been the centre
of controversy and protest since it opened.
Surrounded by a 20 foot tall
metal fence the residents of the centre are all asylum seekers
detained while their applications are processed. They are all seeking
a new life in this country and away from the persecutions that they
may have endured in their own country. In a petition that they
recently sent to the Home Office Immigration department they tried to
get across the atmosphere and conditions under which they are forced
to live. 'We don't understand why we are treated this way...They make
us feel guilty doing nothing and taking the punishment.' The 'they'
referred to are the officers from Group 4 who run the facility whilst
the punishment that the detainees were complaining of arose in the
aftermath of a riot at the centre.
Life in Campsfield is grim. It
is true that some may say that it is better than the treatment the
detainees would get if they were back in their own country but that
is not a criteria to judge against. Confined to their rooms from
10:30pm to 7:00am they have few basic rights. One half are kept in
their rooms whilst the other half eat and if they want to go to
toilet then they have to ask permission. Earlier this year the
Liberal Democrat MP Emma Nicholson was refused the opportunity to
enter the centre to talk to the detainees. The reason? Former Prisons
Minister, Anne Widdicombe said that detainees had become very noisy
and there had been a rapid escalation of tension after Ms Nicholson
asked the women if they had been raped. A month later there was a
rooftop protest by the detainees in the hope that the new Labour
government would take notice. Admittedly, it is true that Jack Straw
has set in motion a review of the Asylum and Immigration procedures
but reviews are known to take months to complete and the situation is
critical right now.
There is a backlog of 50,000
people awaiting decisions on their status in this country. Mike
O'Brien the immigration minister, who has admitted that he has
inherited a very difficult situation, says 'We are determined that no
refugee should be left destitute ... and as part of our comprehensive
spending review we are examining the way in which asylum seekers are
assisted and supported.
One way to do this would be to
look at the way that asylum seekers in this country are denied the
chance to call lawyers or friends as a punishment for taking action
about the abominable conditions in which they are housed. Another
would be to repeal the pernicious Social Security (Persons from
Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 1996 which Social
Security minister Peter Lilley used to deny Asylum Seekers the chance
to claim income support.
Even the Home Office's own
research has shown that those who gain refugee status often come with
professional and economic skills to benefit the country. This is the
same Home Office that in the past has shipped back so-called bogus
Asylum Seekers to their own country only for them to disappear
without a trace once they arrive.
In opposition the Labour party
was on the side of the detainees, now they are in power they should
show what they meant, they should come out, as Paddy Ashdown said he
would, and repeal the Immigration and Asylum Act.
Campsfield is just one of the
places that detainees are sent to. With it's clinging on to the free
market ideals promoted by Thatcher and continued by Major it is hoped
that such a place will not be continued by Blair. Asylum seekers, in
their own words are 'here to be protected by the British and not to
be punished.' By locking them away we do just that, by housing them
on ships and other floating accommodation we do the same thing. They
wish to be a part of the society that they feel will protect them so
why not let them live in that society where they can be useful and
It is said that a civilised
nation is judged by the way it treats those who flee less civilised
regimes. If that were the criteria to be applied in this case then
this country has a long way to go.